The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Freshman Blues

A guy playing a saxophone

No matter your past, your history of mental health, how confident you are about anything, your popularity status in high school, or your excitement to “embark on the road to your future” thing, as a Freshman you will be at a high risk for what is known as the Freshman Blues. Hear me out.

The Freshman Blues are a very common affliction, wherein you may find yourself depressed, exasperated, over-stressed, and desperately unsure of the future. It makes sense that this would happen; you’re transplanted from your home, and all the safety and continuity that comes with that, and put into an environment that your high school likely didn’t prepare you for. That kind of lifestyle change can be traumatic for some people and there’s a lot on your plate: classes are difficult, the opportunities are overwhelming, the food is not the best, financial aid (scholarships! Parent Plus loans! you’re going to be in debt with loans until you’re in your 40s!), degree requirements, internships, friends, etc.

There’s a lot of substance there that could easily ferment into an abysmal depression. Freshman year is the most difficult.

If you are struck with the Freshman Blues, you have to recognize it. You don’t want the Freshman Blues, even if it feels inevitable. It doesn’t have to happen. Don’t let it.

During my freshman year, I struggled with socializing and had few friends, I failed a few classes by not doing work or attending lectures, and soon I found myself in a spiral of self-doubt and depression that brought me to a point of hopelessness, which only left me with nothing but a bad headache and a missed assignment deadline. I wanted it, though. My inadequacy seemed so righteous. I couldn’t complete my homework, but everyone else in my class could. Was I too stupid to do calculus? Why did no one like me? Was I not good enough for the college crowd? Endless thoughts so dark scrolled through my head and stagnated me. I refused to leave my dorm room. I refused to eat. I stopped talking. I stopped moving. I was deep in the process of a bad case of Freshman Blues.

By the grace of some brief moment of objective insight, I saw myself for what I was: an afflicted human being who could not do it on their own. There was no shame in this—there never is. I had to take action to get help, so I did.

I called the IU Health Center Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and scheduled an appointment with a therapist for the next week. The entire time leading up to the appointment, I was jittery and nervous and anxious. All I wanted, more than anything, was to be fixed. I was convinced that IU was not the place for me, that I was not ready to be a college student, and that I never would be, but I did not want to return to my mother’s home a broken person. So I laid awake at night having fake conversations with the therapist, refining the way I wanted to present myself to her. I was prepared.

That ended up being the best decision of my life, probably. Between my first appointment in March and my last appointment a month later, my world had been transformed. I saw hope. I found out that my depression was justified, that this is a normal response to a dramatic lifestyle change. I no longer mentally relegated myself to a future filled only with minimum-wage jobs and/or gold digging. Slowly, I began to rebuild the emotional scaffolding that humans have in place to make them work, and by the time summer came I was able to say that I experienced happy moments and that I could anticipate more happy moments in my future—a future which I had at one point been determined not to have.

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to go through that. I didn’t escape my Freshman year without two semesters of academic dismissal, but I did leave it as a very different person. It was difficult, but it didn’t have to be. Freshman year is difficult but IU has resources for this. You can meet weekly with a therapist at CAPS for only $20/session (the first two with any counselor are free) and you can bill it to your tuition bill (Bursar). There is group therapy, couples therapy, massage therapy, nutritional assistance, you can exercise (and raise endorphins!) at any of the gyms on campus and there are even physical trainers who will help you, there are tutors available for free in most dorms, there’s the FASE mentoring program, there are cultural centers (Hillel, Chabad, Asian Student Association, GLBT Student Support Services, La Casa, etc.). There are options.

There’s no criteria to determine how you will handle college life. Some people go through it without any problems. But if something does come up, don’t feel like you can’t handle it. If you have problems, you’re not the only one. There are staff at the university for the sole purpose of helping people like you. You can take advantage of them. Even if you’re not struggling with the Freshman Blues, you still could probably benefit from any of these services for any reason.

The amount of support I feel on this campus is tremendous. Thanks to that support, I’m now on my way to a degree. I’m going to graduate and be an adult and all that. I’m a few years behind, thanks to the false start during my Freshman year, but I really do owe a lot to the above listed services. They helped me realize how truly great it is to be alive anywhere, and especially here.

Carly Casper
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